Cowboy's 'Adaptive Power' update breathes new life into its flagship bike

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When Cowboy, a European high-end e-bike company, invited the media to an event in Paris, France, they faced some unexpected challenges. In addition to the torrential rains, there have also been strikes and protests against changes to the country’s pension system. And then the big reveal was… not a new bike. Instead, the ad was for three spring color options for the Cowboy 4 and 4ST (stepper) plus Adaptive Power, a software upgrade coming to Cowboy 4 bikes this month. So when I met the leaders of the company, I already had my question: Where is the new model?

But before I sat down to talk to them, I got to try Adaptive Power, drive around a few blocks, and get in and out of parking lots in Paris. Would this smarter e-bike (with the same motor) translate into tangible improvements? Fortunately, yes. Adaptive Power works by tapping into the e-bike’s accelerometer and other sensors, depending on the rider’s weight, momentum and other factors, even wind. The new feature adjusts motor power without the need for gears or pushing a boost button. The sensors also apparently detect inclines as soon as your front wheel hits them, increasing drive assist. The update uses the same sensors and technologies already used for collision detection.

Cowboy 4 Adaptive Power Review

Mat Smith / Engadget

According to Cowboy, the e-bike should offer equivalent battery life between the two iterations, as the motors will likely run more than the latest version when the bike needs more power, but will also run less when it doesn’t. need. If you’re driving an updated Cowboy 4 you won’t be able to revert to the previous system, but using the app you can choose between adaptive and eco modes, the latter offering reduced assistance.

I was able to compare the C4, both with and without the feature, and Adaptive Power’s biggest improvement was how it started at the perfect time while accelerating from a standstill. That’s not to say the pre-Adaptive Power Cowboy 4 was sluggish, but it was smoother and more responsive—that’s impressive for a single-speed bike. Previously, the bike’s motor responded to your pedal strokes. This time, more information is needed to decide whether to boost or not.

While this is the most practical perk, there’s also a tangible improvement when tackling hills and inclines. With Adaptive Power, steep hills required a bit of pedaling but were manageable. Switching to a bike without Adaptive Power – but the same motor with 45Nm of torque – is a trip down the struggle bus. This was a common complaint from Cowboy 4 riders, with many saying hilly environments were difficult to tackle, even with electric assist. This new feature seems to fix that problem, judging by my brief ride on the updated Cowboy 4. (If Cowboy is looking for something to improve on when he finally gets to his fifth-generation bike, this urban rider would appreciate a more comfortable saddle.)

This update also plays on the design of the Cowboy 4. Unlike many e-bikes, there are no controls to tap directly into the e-motor. It’s supposed to look (and ride) like a normal push bike and it does. The Cowboy 4 is also, again, a few kilograms lighter than VanMoof’s latest e-bike, its most comparable rival. Both are high-end e-bike options with similar price points and features, but if you’re riding your bike up stairs or buildings, it’s worth considering.

Although Adaptive Power has already been in beta testing with users, the official launch coincides with three new color options for the Cowboy 4 and 4ST. While this is an awesome way to upgrade existing users’ e-bikes – and do it without having to take it to a service center – these are the same bikes that first launched in 2021.

So far, Cowboy has iterated fast, with new models arriving at a similar cadence to flagship smartphones. We reviewed his first bike in 2019, which wasn’t that long. But there are a few reasons the company is sticking with the Cowboy 4.

Many e-bike technologies will not change dramatically over the next few years. Barring incremental efficiency updates, the motor inside most e-bikes is unlikely to see generational updates. I also wonder how current Cowboy e-bike owners view the company’s updated models, having spent thousands of dollars on an e-bike 18 months earlier, only to have it replaced so soon. So why not Cowboy 5? For Cowboy, CEO and co-founder Adrien Roose told me the focus was on improving quality, efficiency and all that comes with scaling up to sell more bikes. The C4 and C4 ST both remain priced at around $3,000depending on the region, and the challenge is to get e-bike prices low enough for wider adoption.

Cowboy 4 Adaptive Power review
Cowboy has a retail space on the first floor of a prestigious Parisian department store.

Mat Smith / Engadget

The company has opened flagship stores in Germany, Belgium and France – the countries Cowboy is intensely focused on and where it sells most of its bikes. So far it has sold over 50,000 bikes worldwide. But while the C4 is available in the US (and being a company called Cowboy), seriously targeting the US market remains a future challenge. Roose told me they were in “learning mode” regarding the United States. The plan appears to be focused on keeping the business healthy and profitable. Roose added that he thinks Cowboy should come to that next year. Maybe they’ll celebrate with a new bike?

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